Shawnee Mission West student remembered for talent and kindness - KCTV5

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Shawnee Mission West student remembered for talent and kindness

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OLATHE, KS (KCTV) -

A Shawnee Mission West student is being remembered for his talent on stage and his kindness off it.

Houston St. John died in a car crash on Interstate 435 near Lackman Road Tuesday.

Grief counselors were on hand at the high school the following day as students tried to deal with the loss of yet another well-loved young man. The grief, though, is extending across the metro as St. John's loss was felt by the so many people who knew him.

"He just loved it. He was genuine and sincere and he loves the craft of musical theater, and he's so good at it," said Jina Milbourn with Christian Youth Theater.

Thursday was opening day for Disney's Tarzan through the Christian Youth Theater in Olathe, KS. St. John was one of two cast in the leading role in a cast of 92. Tuesday night his second family at CYT broke the news to the cast, most of whom are under the age of 11.

"Our show is about Tarzan finding out who his real family is and, you know, at the same time we're always telling these kids we're a family in CYT and I think we saw some of our most strident and vivid examples of family coming together to support each other," said Allan Manning with the theater.

Manning said there were a lot of tears, hugs and prayers.

Manning and Milbourn directed St. John in the production. They said, right now, the loss is too much to wrap their minds around.

"His heart, his spirit and his love for others ... he was ... (he) thought of others first," Milbourn said.

Tuesday in the rain, the 17-year-old lost control of his car and hit another car. St. John did not survive the crash.

In a heartbreaking twist, he was very good friends with Shawnee Mission West star, football player Andre Maloney, who collapsed on the field and died about a month ago. Friends say St. John was still trying to come to grips with the loss of his friend.

They said he was also heavily involved with theater both at school and CYT. Manning said, despite the unimaginable pain his mother is going through, she called them Tuesday night saying she hoped the show would go on.

"This is his last theatrical project. We want to honor that and go forth and make it happen. It's going to be hard," Milbourn said.

Christian Youth Theater's production of Disney's Tarzan started with a show for area school children at 10 a.m. Thursday. Organizers said they are putting the show on for St. John's memory.

That night the cast took the stage at Bell Cultural Events Center with heavy hearts. The show itself began at 7 p.m., but cast members gathered on stage 15 minutes before for a tribute to St. John.

"We're not going to allow ourselves to kind of sleep walk through this production. We're really going to step up and do this show the best that we possibly can. The students, the cast members are all over that. They want to make it the best they possibly can and do it in Houston's honor," Manning said.

While his parents didn't attend Thursday night's show, organizers said they plan to attend a performance.

Besides the tribute held between cast members prior to the show, an insert has been added in the show's program highlighting St. John. It is one of many planned throughout the show's run, which ends with a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday, Nov. 17.

Shawnee Mission West and several of St. John's teachers issued statements Wednesday.

"The death of any student is tragic for a school community and family and unfortunately Shawnee Mission West High School has suffered three student deaths in five months: Ezkiel Crapo this summer, Andre Maloney in October, and Houston St. John. Our students and faculty are fortunate to have the outpouring of support and love from not only our West area family but also patrons in SMSD as well as throughout Johnson County. The students and faculty have truly appreciated the community's thoughts and prayers during these difficult times," wrote Julie Crain, Shawnee Mission West's principal.

The 17-year-old was a very active member of the Shawnee Mission West Theater department and was recognized with a nomination for the Blue Star Program through Starlight that annually recognizes outstanding high school talent.

"Houston St. John was one of the most talented, friendly, hard-working, and dedicated students I have taught in all of my years at Shawnee Mission West. I will miss his ever-positive outlook on life. He could always find the good and the fun in every situation. Houston had a smile that could instantly warm your heart and make anyone's day better. I am so thankful that I got to know him as one of my students. Houston will always be a treasured part of my theater department," wrote Michael Reiff, Shawnee Mission West's theater director.

St. John was a two-year member of the Shawnee Mission West Madrigal Singers and Chorale - the top two choral ensembles based on musicianship and leadership.

"Houston was a dynamic personality - so genuine and friendly to all whom he encountered. His dedication, work ethic, determination, talent, and passion towards the performing arts will be a shining example to us all and a model of inspiration as we move forward," wrote Laura VanLeeuwen, Shawnee Mission West's choir director.

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